In this monolithic omnipresent myth called Culture, I come across many instances of gobbledygook that a lot of people (un)painstakingly make up to dupe the masses, ironically in the name of the GreaterGood. Most times I laugh it off, hoping fervently no one believes the story. Other times I’m wondering just why do people constantly buy into stereotypes all the time. It’s a bigger unexplained mystery than Quandary #7,895 which states — Why don’t my bookshelves grow every time books are added? Embellishments aside, people do really believe the strangest things. Why, last week my grandmother’s friend took one look at my dog’s eyes and declared PureEvil lived in him; without pausing to think she smelled of rat poop and my dog was just trying to sniff out the vermin (no innuendo intended). Some ageists can argue that she’s (gasp!) old and that is why she has lost her grip on reality, but the truth is if she can remember who divorced who, quote soap-operas like the Bhagvad Gita, then she can most definitely discern between knowledge and (un)intellectual rubbish. Some of you can say that probably her pain medication got to her head (unlikely) but people have asked me worse, more nonsensical things. Sadly, these questions are seen as perfectly logical and even natural to them.
Call them myths, fantasies, well-crafted fantasies, credibly realistic fiction — anything you want. What rankles this LadyBrain so deeply is the number of people who actually believe in these (p)fallacied fabrications. Last week, my aunt asked me if I’ve “Given up on feminism”, when she saw my Medusa look she realised I wasn’t too pleased with the suggestion. She went away muttering something about how unnecessary the women’s movement is, considering “All that those angry women wanted, they’ve got it! What is left to fight for?” — A good question indeed. For many middle-class urban women, the battle and the war, both have been won. If any “fight” or struggle that has to take place, it’s only for those backward women. We’re more emancipated than you make out of us, maybe you should stop making up the history of oppression. And just why is your prose and poetry so angry!? OH WHY CAN’T YOU WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING HAPPY ONCE IN A WHILE? These questions are always lurking around the corner wherever I go.
This is probably a fact as old as time or the Indian custom of paan itself — whenever the oppressed speaks up, it’s hardly going to be sweet and praising of its oppressor or the hegemony — consider this as your introductory class to Gramsci if you will. A few years ago, one of the most concise and beautiful anthology of women’s short stories came under the title ‘The Inner Courtyard‘ where the editor Lakshmi Holmström brought forth the moving words that ‘Women in India seem to be talking only within the confinement of the Inner Courtyard and the Veranda, their voices aren’t clear to ever reach the door; let alone anywhere beyond’. If I were to say we are still within the confined cage, many would mock; most would just brush off my words as “an exaggeration of the FemaleMind” for what spells progress louder than mini-skirts and blond hair-dye?
If I look at the young women of Mumbai today, the image that runs up over and again is the carefree Lady, whose outfit screams out her political persuasion — from jeans to sarees, the confident young mother/entrepreneur who manages the household as well as the office as well as we heard in the fairytales of our childhood. The truth is, she is no closer to shattering any SuperHardenedGlassCeiling than she was 20 years ago; just now she looks the part. The young undergrad can be seen as the symbol of ultimate subversion; for she is angry, political, focused, driven, independent — or so it seems. She may think she has conquered, categorised and completely possessed the canvas of her body and mind; but one threat to her sexuality and she is obediently silent. Cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore etc reek of faux-liberalism (another parting gift of capitalism) that very convincingly seem like the hubs of all kinds of progress and positivism. Much like Emily Dickinson’s verses, these contain a subplot, subtext, subplay of repression, co-option and of course of restrained rebellion while teasing the onlooker with promise of revolution and just retreating back into our lives as soon as there is any real threat to the ground beneath our feet.
As much as I adore the pro-action women’s movement of the 80’s and 90’s in India — especially eco-feminists like Vandana Siva — today the fight is even more complex than before. How does anyone try to live, feel, breathe as a feminist in a culture as deeply rooted in Feminist Backlash as ours is today is a question that has kept me up on more nights than I can possibly count. I’m not trying to suggest everyone is a soul-less automaton, incapable of subversion and resistance, rather that this is the route to the dumbing down of minds. Indian soap operas are filled with women protagonists and women’s issues — from child marriage to female feticide — a remarkable feat, we must acknowledge that. However, these protagonists seem to be modeled by de Sade himself, for no woman can be that masochistic. She will endure all kinds of abuse to remain the “pure”, “virtuous” and the “good daughter-in-law”. However, to dismiss her entirely as patriarchy’s disciple would be foolish as well as wrong. There are spurts, deviations where the WOMAN springs up, demanding rights, a voice. However by popular audience demand (more often than not), she goes back to the role of the dutiful, subservient — may I say even spineless at times — caricature of womanhood. What does that reflect on the audience and the media? My LadyBrain shudders at even thinking about these questions.
The business art we call publishing remains as stubbornly mainstream and male-stream as ever. As a Lady to break into this All Boys Ghetto Club is harder than eating your own heel, unless you’re willing to obey to the Lord of the land — cough Shobha De cough — or risk being ostracised. It’s at times like these I can think of Virginia Woolf’s essay where she says, “A Lady needs a lot of money and a room of her own to write”, only I’ll like to add “And have a SuperBendyBack”. The minute she dares to separate herself from the stream, she is called a rebel and by extension, treated as if she doesn’t exist. And unless the Lady wants to be called a ‘Silly Bra-Less Bitch‘, she toes the line; to their utmost satisfaction.
As a wife, daughter, sister, aunt — policing and monitoring a woman and her sexuality becomes extremely easy. Whether she is straight or queer. Wise or otherwise. I could list the ways of assault used against women but that won’t change our reality. As shocking as it sounds, women living in cities are quite “used” to be regularly molested in public spaces. This doesn’t mean no one will retaliate, rather we treat the symptom and not the cause (directives and warnings are given to women by family and the State on how to ‘behave’ in public spaces while the molester gets yet another boner out of your squirming discomfort). Sex lives, sexual orientation and the very notion of sex differs hugely in public and private spaces. I can do whatever I want, be who I want as long as I stay in the margins of the panopticon Indian society. And this is just the tip of the motherfreaking iceberg that comes under the ‘Woman Problem’. All these are extremely urbane problems. Women from small towns and villages are fighting an extremely different fight, infinitely less privileged than the women in the cities.
In this light, to say “feminism has achieved its goals” roars loudly of silence and silencing. So when the Lady picks up her favoured weapon — the pen — the words she uses to erase this invisibility will be angry, harsh, dirty, deafening, radical, difficult, un-contained. To say she should tamper down this bile and fury is to ask her to compromise more than half of herself away. To say women’s voices are heard plenty and loud would be akin to assuming the Sun revolves around the earth. It may seem like we are yelling out, asking the world to stop and listen to us, but all that manages to escape out are muffles and ‘inconsequential’ mumblings.
The Glass Ceiling exists — it’s become more invisible and harder to break than ever. We do still speak from within our hearts, voice ourselves in the Inner Courtyard of our consciousness. This progressive concrete ground is very craftily constructed to make us believe that all our grumbling is just a figment of our hysterical brains.
Stop telling me my voice is taken seriously, when it’s obviously not. You don’t know it but I can see right through you.
P.S. Renee of Womanist Musings needs all the help she can get. Head on over to her blog and do whatever you can for her and her family. She runs a worthy blog and what better way to show your appreciation than now?